Langkawi, Malaysia is on many a student’s gap year bucket list and it is easy to see why.
With pristine white-sand beaches, tropical jungle, sizzlingly spicy street food and plenty of activities to suit most tastes, Langkawi is truly the ‘jewel of Kedah.’ And if all this isn’t enough to tempt backpackers from across the globe, the island is effectively duty-free with incredibly cheap tobacco and alcohol!
Langkawi is an archipelago of ninety-nine islands. There is an airport at Padang, at the northwest of the main island, and receives direct flights from Singapore, Phuket, Kuala Lumpur, Penang and Hat Yai. You can get free Wi-Fi at the airport and there are plenty of shops and eateries. Tip: Most of these cannot be accessed after passing through immigration, so avoid going airside before you hear your flight called.
You can get there by ferry from Penang, Kuala Kedah, Kuala Perlis and Satun. You could also charter a speedboat, but watch out as these boats are referred to locally as ‘vomit comets’ for a very good reason!
There is no public transport in Langkawi so your options are to use taxis, rental cars or to hire a bicycle. Most hotels have a bike rental service for around 10-30 RM (equivalent to around £1.60 – £4.60).
Weather and climate
Hot and sticky weather is pretty much guaranteed all year round in Langkawi and luckily it is naturally protected from major tropical storms and hurricanes by its sheltered position on the Malaccan Straits, between the mainland and the large island of Sumatra.
Most people travel to Langkawi during the dry season which lasts from November until April, as it doesn’t get too hot and there is less rainfall. You can expect plenty of sunshine until mid-afternoon when clouds tend to appear.
Where to stay
Kuah is all about good shopping and eating out cheaply. Accommodation here is very cheap and is, therefore, popular with backpackers. The downsides are that there aren’t any beaches suitable for swimming nearby and it is some distance from the major tourist attractions.
Cenang is a busy area, jam-packed with restaurants, shops, and spas – widely viewed as the best eating, boozing and shopping choices on the island all within walking distance of each other. If you like tranquillity and romance, Cenang might not be the best choice for you. That being said, it has a gorgeous white-sand beach which does not get too crowded.
Tengah is very similar to Cenang but quieter and more secluded.
Burau Bay is incredibly beautiful with a wide bay that is ideal for watersports and the resorts here offer good value for money. You can explore the rainforest which is on your doorstep too. Very quiet and secluded—a great destination for a romantic honeymoon.
North of the Island
The north of Langkawi is the home of the best beaches, the best hotels and restaurants, and is very exclusive in that everything is super-expensive.
There are plenty of things to do in Langkawi island. Here are three of the most popular:
Lake the Langkawi Cable Car/ SkyCab to the top of Mat Cincang Peak
For an unforgettable experience, the cable car takes you on a 1.4-mile journey over the ancient rainforest, across limestone crags and over waterfalls. from the top, you can see the beauty of the coastline and even the Thai mainland. Booking through the website is advisable to avoid lengthy queues. Once you get to the top station, you can go on the Langkawi Sky Bridge, although there is a small extra charge. Breathtaking views for those who aren’t afraid of heights!
Visit Cenang Beach
A clean and beautiful beach with all the watersports you could wish for. Restaurants are adjacent to the beach, which is busy but not unpleasantly so.
Go on an eco-tour
The Langkawi Mangrove tour is a must if you are into wildlife and enjoy boats. The tour guides are knowledgeable and will point out things of interest, such as eagles, swimming monkeys, exotic fish, snakes and possibly a stingray, as well as explaining the importance of preserving this incredibly important habitat.
The local cuisine
There are many restaurants that serve a global or authentic Chinese, Malay or Thai cuisine to suit all budgets and tastes. Good for freshly caught seafood. If you are interested in sampling street food, then check out the night markets, where you can see the food being cooked in front of you and you have the same experience as the locals. Malaysian chicken and fish balls barbecued on skewers in a spicy sauce are delicious, and look out for noodles, curry puffs and Murtabak.
Do you have any travel advice for visiting Langkawi? Let us know in the comments below.